The news that a gay man’s suit against the Chicago-area Catholic parish which fired him was dismissed by a judge because of the religious exemption rule is disappointing, but should not be the last word on this case.
U.S. District Judge Charles P. Kocoras told Colin Collette, who was fired as music director from Holy Family parish, Inverness, that his suit against both the parish and the Archdiocese of Chicago was dismissed because churches are exempt from employment discrimination laws if the position in question is deemed to be ministerial.
The Arlington Daily Herald reported that Kocoras viewed Collette to be a “key ministerial employee” and the judge’s decision stated:
” ‘The Supreme Court has recognized the right of religious organizations to control their own affairs,’ Kocoras wrote. ‘This right includes the freedom to “decide for themselves, free from state interference, matters of church government as well as those of faith and doctrine.” Matters of church government include the right of churches to select their own leaders.’
“Kocoras added Collette also served as a director of worship with duties ‘specifically oriented toward helping the church carry out the celebration of Mass.’ “
Collette commented to The Chicago Tribune about the ramifications of the church’s decision to fire him:
“Collette said Wednesday that the decision ‘flies in such contradiction to the wonderful things that are coming out of Rome. The pope is speaking about unity and love, and here we are creating a church of fear and division.’
His attorney saw more sinister motivations behind Collette’s firing. The Tribune captured her thoughts:
“Collette’s attorney Kerry Lavelle, who had argued that Collette’s role was not ministerial, said in a statement Wednesday that the Catholic Church has ‘chosen to stand behind its ministerial exception to discriminate against members of the gay community.’
” ‘That someone of (Collette’s) commitment and ability is prevented from pursuing their career in this day and age is a sign of how far some institutions have to go in accepting all members of society, and demonstrates that there are still many individuals who are not granted equal rights in the workplace,’ Lavelle said.”
Collette had been fired in 2014 because he announced his engagement to another man. The Arlington Daily Herald reported the comments of the then-head of the Chicago Archdiocese:
A letter from the late Cardinal Francis George, published in Holy Family’s bulletin in October 2014, stated Collette was dismissed for his “participation in a form of union that cannot be recognized as a sacrament by the church.”
Though the legal case has, at least for now, been lost, this should not be the end of this matter. While Cardinal George had made opposition to LGBT equality a hallmark of his archdiocesan administration, the new pastoral leader of Chicago, Cardinal Blase Cupich, has been much more open to LGBT people.
While Cupich may not have been able to comment on Collette’s case while it was still going through the court, now is the time that he can offer reconciliation with this Catholic man who has been so unjustly treated.
Cardinal George’s claim that Collette’s marriage “cannot be recognized as a sacrament by the church” is a red herring. Collette was not asking that his civil marriage be so recognized. Catholics of all sorts may avail themselves of legally valid opportunities that are not recognized by the church and still maintain their employment in church institutions. Why can’t Collette do so?
The judge may be right that the church does not have to follow civil law. But the church should at least follow God’s law and treat people with respect, compassion, and dignity. It should treat all people equally, not set up separate rules for some and not for others.
Civil law may permit Colin Collette’s firing, but Christian charity demands that he not experience discrimination. Cardinal Cupich should meet with Collette soon, and reinstate him to his former position in Holy Family parish.
–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry, June 9, 2017
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For all Bondings 2.0 posts which mention Collette’s story and trace its development, click here.